New book helps you watch what you eat to keep cancer at bay

The link between cancer and food is explained in a new book, The Anti-Cancer Cookbook, which also contains 130 recipes, writes KATE RYAN, who catches up with one of the authors, Dr Aoife Ryan
New book helps you watch what you eat to keep cancer at bay

Leading dieticians and cancer experts at UCC, Dr Aoife Ryan and Dr Éadaoin Ní Bhuachalla. Picture: Sarah Ryan 

“CANCER causes one in six deaths worldwide and has overtaken cardiovascular disease as the leading cause of death in many parts of the world.”

The opening line of The Anti-Cancer Cookbook is attention-grabbing. Whilst cancer treatments are helping with increased survival rates, the holy grail lies in prevention.

Dr Aoife Ryan and Dr Éadaoin Ní Bhuachalla, experts in oncology dietetics, developed The Anti-Cancer Cookbook to highlight the link between obesity and cancer, based on the latest scientific evidence. They teamed up with Derval O’Rourke, Georgina Campbell, Neven Maguire and others to develop recipes tailor-made to support the latest dietary science in cancer prevention.

“In the back of my mind was always the worried well, but also patients in cancer treatment who weren’t experiencing loss of appetite or weight loss, even gaining weight during treatment, and not happy about that, or in remission and looking online for information on diets that might help them,” said Dr Ryan.

Aoife Ryan.
Aoife Ryan.

“I was getting so many emails from patients asking me about a lot of fad diets: oestrogen-free diet, carbohydrate free, dairy free, gluten free, meat free — I realised there was a lot going on among cancer patients with what I would term non-evidence-based information.

“Our cancer numbers are increasing dramatically in Ireland, and a new report published in 2018 by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), the main cancer research body on nutrition and cancer, put a core focus on cancer prevention.

“I put together a book that would be primarily about cancer prevention but also for patients entering the survivorship phase who are interested in eating more healthily to help reduce their risk of reoccurrence.”

The Anti-Cancer Cookbook is in two parts. Part one explains in easy to grasp terms the scientific evidence regarding diet and cancer. Part two contains 130 recipes (soups, light meals, snacks, main courses and side dishes), that all meet the exact nutritional recommendations for cancer prevention.

“This book is for the general public. I wrote it because of the rising tide of misinformation I was seeing on social media, online and in bookshops and there was never anything evidence-based to counteract that argument,” said Dr Ryan.

Ketogenic diets, juicing and avoiding dairy are just some of the popular publications and ‘fad diets’, as Aoife refers to them, that, she says: “Have been aggressively marketed to cancer survivors without any basis in science that they work.”

The Anti-Cancer Cookbook is based on 10 Recommendations developed by the WCRF report on the findings of their Continuous Update Project. Reports are published every ten years, 2018’s report is the third published and represents a body of data built up over 30 years of scientific research.

The Anti-Cancer Cookbook.
The Anti-Cancer Cookbook.

Based on collated data of half a million scientific studies conducted globally on the link between cancer and diet, each study is graded on the voracity of their study and findings.

The studies on which the 10 Recommendations are based are graded as having convincing and robust evidence of the link between obesity and 12 different cancers — five more than identified in the 2008 report.

“Fewer than 5% of cancers are inherited through genetics, but a survey of public opinion put that risk at 50% and completely underestimated the risk of obesity,” says Aoife.

“60% of cancers are random occurrences, but 40% of all cancers are related to diet and preventable.”

The 10 Recommendations are:

1. Be a healthy weight

2. Be physically active

3. Eat a diet rich in wholegrains, vegetables, fruit and beans

4. Limit consumption of fast foods and other processed foods high in fat, starches or sugars

5. Limit consumption of red meat and processed meat

6. Limit consumption of sugar sweetened drinks

7. Limit alcohol consumption

8. Do not use supplements for cancer prevention

9. For mothers: breastfeed your baby, if you can

10. After cancer diagnosis, follow the recommendations, if you can.

Eadaoin ni Bhuachalla.
Eadaoin ni Bhuachalla.

Each recommendation complied with lowers the chance of developing cancer by 5%. The book and the WCRF recommendations will not eliminate the risk of cancer developing, but following the advice decreases risk considerably and ultimately lowers the burden on the public health system.

“As far as we know, this is the first Cookbook created based on WCRF Recommendations, and we wanted to translate the recommendations into actual meals,” said Aoife.

“In fact, healthy eating and healthy weight aren’t just about lowering cancer risk, they also have an impact on other non-communicable diseases linked to obesity and overweight: diabetes and heart disease.”

While Covid continues to impact all of us physically, mentally and financially, Aoife is keen to emphasise The Anti-Cancer Cookbook’s useability — even in these restricted times. We can all head out for a walk and we are cooking more at home and from scratch.

“We don’t use any expensive ingredients, and the recipes are everyday foods but just cooking them in a healthier way. Yes, it can be a little more expensive to buy fresh fruit and vegetables than processed food, but a little clever shopping can balance that out.”

The tasty recipes are all about balance. Eating more vegetables, wholegrains and pulses makes sense; eating less processed food and drinking less sugary drinks and alcohol makes sense. But fresh meat and dairy is still on the menu — leaner and lower fat options are suggested.

The Anti-Cancer Cookbook is about making good food the central theme of every meal we eat, and relegating sweets, fizzy drinks and alcohol back as treats taken infrequently, not daily.

Eliminating one food altogether is not important, says Aoife: “Weight is a much more important factor in determining risk.”

The Anti-Cancer Cookbook is endorsed by the Irish Society of Medical Oncology, the Irish Nutrition & Dietetic Institute and the National Cancer Control Programme in Ireland and is supported by the World Cancer Research Fund. It costs €25 via online bookshops. All royalties go to Breakthrough Cancer Research.

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